It is time to be done with Donald Trump.
Not in 2021. Not in 2020. Now.
As a practical matter, the United States and the world cannot wait for this racist con man and cheat to finish the term that the majority of Americans never wanted him to begin. The voters rejected his candidacy on November 8, 2016. It was an anachronistic Constitutional construct—an Electoral College established to thwart the will of the people—that allowed the poseur who lost the popular balloting to become President.
Americans should not hesitate to employ far worthier Constitutional constructs, including those establishing the authority of the Congress to impeach elected despots, to remove him from office. Immediately.
The urgent need to extract this shambling son of privilege from a position for which he is shockingly unqualified and demonstrably unfit has very little to do with politics—even Republicans, in their honest moments, acknowledge that Trump is a miserable excuse for a President—and very much to do with the ticking of the clock.
Activists cannot wait any longer for Democratic leaders in the Congress to lead in the direction that Democrats across America desire.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body that is responsible for assessing science related to climate change, issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C” in October 2018. The U.K. newspaper The Guardian gave us the bottom line as a headline: “We Have Twelve years to Limit Climate Change Catastrophe, Warns U.N.” Debra Roberts, the co-chair of the panel’s working group on impacts, described the report as “a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”
Clarion call. Check. We have twelve years in which to begin to take meaningful action to save the planet. Luckily, we know how to do it.
“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices,” says Jim Skea, a co-chair of the U.N. panel’s working group on mitigation. “We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5°C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that. We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry.”
Can be done. Check. “Then,” says Skea, “the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can—and that is the governments that receive it.”
Government action. Uh-oh.
The government of the United States, the country with less than 5 percent of the global population that consumes roughly a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources, is not going to act while Donald Trump remains as President. Trump is a climate-change denier who has been labeled the “the most relentlessly anti-environmental President in modern U.S. history.” He used his latest State of the Union Address to brag about how the United States is “the number-one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”
If we want to save the planet, Trump needs to go. Fast.
This is where the clock comes in. When the U.N. report was published, Trump was not even two years into his four-year term. He has since passed the halfway mark, but not by much. That’s problematic if we have a finite amount of time to address a scorching crisis.
We have twelve years to act. Yet roughly one sixth of that time—the better part of two years—will be characterized not just by inaction but by this President’s determined efforts to hasten the burning of the planet.
What if the United Nations erred on the optimistic side? What if we have only ten years? Or eight years? And what about the other issues on which Trump is steering the country in precisely the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time?
As the President tweets and poses, a radical transformation of our work life has already begun: Traditional jobs are giving way to freelance gigs, driverless cars are veering onto our highways, self-checkout stations are replacing human cashiers.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, we’re about to experience a new machine age in which automation could eliminate as many as 800 million jobs worldwide. The Verge reports that “in the U.S. alone, between thirty-nine and seventy-three million jobs stand to be automated—making up around a third of the total workforce.”
With only a handful of years in which to prepare for the next economy, can we really afford to hand off two of them to a clueless President who is waging nineteenth-century trade wars in order to address twenty-first-century employment and wage voids?
What about the fact that a rapidly diversifying nation is being divided against itself by a racist President who tells us that there are some “very fine people” marching with Confederate flags and chanting “Jews will not replace us”?
Can we really afford to cede month after month, year after year, to a lifelong bigot who is using his bully pulpit to spin “Make America Great Again” fantasies in a desperate politics of thwarting the future? Can we sit idly by as he spews venomous lies about immigrants, diverts billions of dollars to a vanity border wall, and packs our courts with Constitution-shredding, dogma-spouting judicial activists?
As a practical matter, the United States and the world cannot wait for this racist con man and cheat to finish the term that the majority of Americans never wanted him to begin.
The worst thing about Donald Trump’s presidency is not what he has done but what he will do (or not do) with what remains of his term. That’s why Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Democrat who gets criticized for her ardent advocacy for impeachment, is absolutely right when she warns that Trump “has created a Constitutional crisis that we must confront now.”
Tlaib’s a lawyer. Yet she speaks about Trump not merely in the language of “high crimes and misdemeanors” but in a language that recognizes Trump’s presidency as an emergency.
“If we don’t hold impeachment proceedings today, start them today and hold him accountable to following the United States Constitution, think about that,” she recently told reporters. “This is not going to be the last CEO that runs for President of the United States. This is not going to be the last person that tries to get away with this.”
There are those who claim that Tlaib, who was elected last fall, is rushing things. Let’s cut to the chase: Tlaib is right. The go-slow crowd is wrong.
The standard expectations for the impeachment and removal of Donald J. Trump as President were met long ago. According to the premises outlined in the Constitution, and clarified by the House Judiciary Committee with the articles of impeachment that were approved during the Watergate crisis, Trump is fully impeachable.
The “Legal Case for a Congressional Investigation on Whether to Impeach President Donald J. Trump,” a white paper published in late 2017 and updated by Constitutional lawyers Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, and Ben Clements, details how he has obstructed justice, violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, conspired with others to commit crimes against the United States and then attempted to conceal these crimes, advocated violence and undermined equal protection under the law, abused the pardon power, engaged in conduct that grossly endangers the peace and security of the United States, directed law enforcement to investigate and prosecute political adversaries for improper and unjustifiable purposes, undermined the freedom of the press, and violated campaign finance laws.
The facts of the President’s wrongdoing, as established even before the narrowly focused inquiry by Special Counsel Robert Mueller (which notably, “does not exonerate” Trump from allegations of obstruction of justice), were more than sufficient to warrant the conclusion of Congressman Steve Cohen, the Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Cohen joined a few other Democrats in filing articles of impeachment against Trump in November 2017, declaring: “The time has come to make clear to the American people, and to this President, that his train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment.”
Of course, the time has come for the Constitutional remedy to the Constitutional crisis that is Donald Trump’s presidency.
But the Constitutional arguments, as compelling as they may be, have not been enough to get more than a handful of House members to entertain necessary action. That’s why upping the ante, focusing on the urgency of removing Trump, and on uprooting Trumpism, is the necessary and practical response to a presidency that cannot be allowed to continue.
The challenge when it comes to Trump is no longer Trump. He is a tragic figure who is melting down before our eyes, an incoherent mess of a man who recently ranted for two hours in front of the dead-enders at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The problem is the political calculus of the leaders of what pass for parties in the United States.
The overwhelming majority of Congressional Republicans continue to give their party’s President a pass, even as honest Republicans, such as former Florida Congressman David Jolly, explain “that the bar for impeachment has already been met and that Trump is Constitutionally compromised.”
Jolly argues, correctly, that “these are extraordinary times. They must be confronted as such. To do otherwise—to deal constructively with this President as a credible political leader—only normalizes for all of history the damage he has already wrought upon the presidency and the nation. Traditional oversight hearings are simply insufficient. Discussion of impeachment should be seriously presented to the American people now by [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer. And in so doing, they will set a narrative that relegates this President to one deserving only dishonor.”
Unfortunately, Pelosi and Schumer are not taking their counsel from David Jolly or their own party’s base. Just as top Republicans continue to defend a President who has been characterized by his former chief of staff as “unhinged,” so top Democrats can’t quite bring themselves to upend a President they know to be manifestly unfit.
Pelosi, Schumer, and their enablers take their cues from a consultant class that focuses Democratic energy on delivering the politics of low expectations favored by major campaign donors and the lobbying establishment—in contrast to the energetic and inspired politics favored by the party’s base. They err invariably on the side of a drab and managerial caution.
Pelosi says we must all “wait and see.” But that’s absurd. We waited through Paul Ryan’s failed speakership, from January 2017 to January 2019. We saw Trump openly admit to obstruction of justice when he declared on national television that he had fired former FBI director James Comey because of “this Russia thing.” (It is true that Mueller’s inquiry “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” but it is also true that issues arising from the Comey firing were on the table for Congressional consideration. Trump wants us to believe that the convoluted conclusion of the Mueller investigation lifted the clouds over his presidency. But, as House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler has said: “It is unconscionable that President Trump would try to spin the special counsel’s findings as if his conduct was remotely acceptable.”)
We have also seen Trump attack press freedom and label critical media outlets “enemies of the people”; give aid and comfort to racists at home; and laud strongmen, dictators, and outright fascists abroad.
We have seen him deny climate change, pass tax cuts for the rich, attack health care protections, forcibly separate migrant children from their parents, gut net neutrality, and pack the federal bench with creep-show characters whose judicial activism denies women’s rights, voting rights, and labor rights.
We’ve seen enough. That’s why nearly nine million more voters backed Democratic U.S. House candidates in 2018 than they did Trump-defending Republicans. That’s why twelve million more voters favored Democratic U.S. Senate candidates over Republicans. If the United States followed the same democratic practices as most of the democracies with which we care to compare ourselves, Trump’s tenure would have ended after the 2018 election delivered a resounding “no confidence” vote.
That is the desire of the Democrats who form the party’s base. A February 2019 Morning Consult report announced: “Appetite for Impeachment Surges Among Democratic Voters.” In January, 39 percent of Democrats indicated that they wanted to make the impeachment of Trump the “top priority” for Congressional Democrats. By February, the “top priority” number was at 53 percent.
Only 8 percent of Democrats now say impeachment should be avoided.
In response to this groundswell of sentiment, Congressional Democrats should proudly present the investigations initiated by the House Judiciary Committee and other Congressional committees as part of a process intended to bring Trump’s presidency to an end.
Yes, holding Presidents to account can be “divisive,” as Pelosi noted in late February, after Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed textbook examples of impeachable offenses—and rank criminality. But they should never avoid divisive issues as part of a political calculus that negates the oath they took as members of Congress to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance” to this duty.
Democratic “leaders” are committing the same sin that Republicans commit, and for the same reason: because they are trying to secure a political advantage.
If Pelosi and Schumer and their cautious caucus signaled that it was their urgent and unequivocal mission to end Trump’s presidency, they would generate excitement and support. If Democrats started talking about impeaching and removing Trump as necessary and appropriate, if they took their 2018 success as a signal that it is time to act, and if they dared House and Senate Republicans to stop them, they would focus the debate as one of their bravest and best members, Texas Congressman Al Green, has tried to do.
Green began arguing for impeachment and accountability two years ago, as the full threat posed by Trump’s continued tenure was becoming apparent. For a long time, he said on the House floor on March 6, “I had to fend off the multitudes who wanted to know ‘What crime did the President commit?’ We had to fight that fight and we won because it is now generally perceived and believed that the President does not have to commit a crime to be impeached.”
Green rejects the “wait and see” approach. “If you are corrupting society, if you are creating harm to society, if you are causing things to happen in society that are unacceptable to the people in the United States of America,” the Congressman says, “an unfit President can be impeached for those misdeeds that corrupt and harm society.”
This is the language that Democrats should be speaking. But Pelosi and Schumer and most of the Democratic “leaders” who appear on the cable channels continue to play politics with the country’s fate and the planet’s future. They lack the sense of urgency that has energized and encouraged grassroots Democrats since the party won control of the House last November.
Democratic “leaders” are committing the same sin that Republicans commit, and for the same reason: because they are trying to secure a political advantage.
Top Congressional Republicans keep impeachment and other Constitutional remedies off the table because they want to maintain as much power as they can going into 2020, even if they must compromise their principles and abandon the best interests of the country. Top Congressional Democrats keep impeachment and Constitutional remedies off the table because they want to be in a position, vis-à-vis a steadily weaker Trump, to gain as much power as they can in 2020, even if they must compromise their principles and abandon the best interests of the country.
After Trump declared a national emergency in order to divert billions of federal dollars into building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that was unauthorized by the Congress, Pelosi and Schumer declared that they would use “every remedy available” to oppose this stark abuse of power. But Trump continues to abuse his power. The abuse will continue. The crisis will continue. Until he is removed.
Making Trump’s removal the “top priority” that grassroots Democrats favor is the beginning of the honest discussion that many Americans say they want. This course rejects “wait and see” hand-wringing about “divisive” politics and opts instead for values-driven governance that has the potential to resonate with the great mass of Americans who never wanted Trump to be President in the first place.
This is the answer to the “What about Pence?” question that is still mumbled by those who complain about Trump but are unprepared to act against Trumpism. Stating clearly and unequivocally that it is time to remove Trump because of the damage he is doing as President, and the damage that he will continue to do for so long as he is President, sets the standard. It says that whoever takes over from Trump—be it Pence or anyone else—will not be allowed to perpetuate Trumpism in the absence of its namesake.
Democrats and independents and Republicans who have any concern for the future are called to this mission. But it does not become serious, it does not become real, until the equivocation ends and a sense of urgency is embraced by what is supposed to be an “opposition party.” The task then, is to dial the urgency up to eleven. This is where the base of the Democratic Party and the independent progressives who align with it—the people who did the most to elect an accountability Congress in 2018—must step up.
Activists cannot wait any longer for Democratic leaders in the Congress to lead in the direction that Democrats across America desire. “There’s this enormous disconnect,” explains Kevin Mack, the lead strategist for Need to Impeach, the group that billionaire Tom Steyer has created to build support for a Constitutional remedy. Responding to the Morning Consult poll, Mack argues that “we’re actually the mainstream. The members of Congress are the outliers.”
He says Democratic members of Congress are “going to have to get pressure from their districts.” To that end, Need to Impeach is stepping up its campaigning (as Steyer explains in a new interview with The Progressive in this issue). Republicans in swing districts and reluctant House Democrats, including the chairs of key committees, will feel the pressure. Need to Impeach will organize town hall meetings and launch television, radio, direct mail, and social media campaigns.
This isn’t about generating a sense of urgency. That already exists. The point is to communicate to the American people, to the media outlets that police rather than promote debate, and to the leaders of the Congress, that it is Constitutionally and politically appropriate to make the removal of the President an immediate aim. It is appropriate because of the high crimes and misdemeanors that we know Donald Trump has committed. It is appropriate because of the damage that Donald Trump’s policies have done already, and because of the damage that we know the continuation of his presidency will do. The time for waiting and seeing is over. This is a “fierce urgency of now” moment. Representative Al Green is right to warn against delay.
“We can investigate to the extent that we engage in what Dr. King called the ‘paralysis of analysis.’ Just investigate until it’s time for another election. And then the election becomes the focal point,” he said on the House floor in March. “My dear friends, my dear brothers and sisters, those who desire to wait may do so. I will not wait.”
Nor should any American.